Why muting is good and bad for Twitter

Today we’re beginning to introduce a new account feature called mute to people who use our iPhone and Android apps and twitter.com. Mute gives you even more control over the content you see on Twitter by letting you remove a user’s content from key parts of your Twitter experience.

Source: Twitter Blogs.

Twitter announced a feature that I though they would never announce – the mute feature. This will let you ‘mute’ the tweets of the people you follow. But why not simply unfollow them if you don’t want to see their tweets? Well, the important distinction between unfollow and mute is that they won’t know you’ve muted them. Therein lies the capitulation of Twitter for user perception over their business model. How?

If you look at it, muting is in fact, bad for Twitter. It messes up the most important number people use to measure their worth on Twitter – follower count. Higher the follower count, larger is the perceived influence. But muting changes that since now you may have a thousand followers but will not be aware that maybe 100 of them are muting you. Why wouldn’t they just unfollow you? Well, because now following and unfollowing on Twitter goes beyond just simple actions you take online. It defines online etiquette. Unfollowing people often pisses them off and they often reciprocate by unfollowing you although they would’ve never done so if you hadn’t. It’s like breaking up your friendship. It somehow turned into a mutual exchange while we weren’t looking. This causes people to not unfollow certain people in spite of them having lost interest in their tweets, mostly to avoid drama.

Facebook already lets you ‘unfollow’ people so their updates don’t appear on your newsfeed without unfriending them so I guess Twitter had no choice but to follow that lead. If you’re old enough to remember, you didn’t have a clue if someone read your blog unless they said so publicly, linked to it, or commented on it. Twitter was actually the anomaly in that regard. Better than a chat client where people know if you are online or not, Twitter still let people know that other people are interested in what they’ve to say. That leads them to tweeting ‘for them’ instead of tweeting about what they find interesting but that’s a separate topic.

How is muting bad for Twitter’s business model? Well, because brands and other people who earn off touting their follower count now will not be sure if their tweets are reaching all the people that claim to follow them. This will lead to more reliance on retweets or maybe as Twitter hopes, Promoted Tweets. So in fact, by giving people more flexibility, it is forcing brands to find more intrusive ways to people’s attention and making money off it. If that’s the logic, it’s brilliant.

What I would really like is for Twitter to also give me a count of how many people are muting me while not necessarily telling me who. By me, I mean, generally I have given up caring about who follows me and if I have any ‘influence’ on the cliques I’m supposed to belong. I had a taste of them while blogging and nothing much came off it. I’m content with how many I’m following and how many are following me. I use a public profile only because I can tweet at people who aren’t following me; mostly brands I like to complain and praise. If Twitter let me do that while being private, I would happily lock my account.

Originally published at www.ipatrix.com.

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